Letter: Do single parents really want work?

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report that the Child Poverty Action Group are complaining that the pounds 200m the Government is setting aside from the windfall tax to "enable" single parents to go out to work is "pitiful" (Report, 5 July). The pressure group arrived at this conclusion because, they say, when the sum is divided by the number of lone parents to be targeted it will be worth only pounds 1.92 a week each. However, this assumes that Harriet Harman's oft-quoted figure of 90 per cent of single parents wanting to work is correct. The evidence for this is not good.

The figure quoted by Ms Harman comes from research commissioned by her department. Unfortunately, the findings are flawed; the survey respondents were asked a rather dumb, bald question about whether or not they "wanted" to work. There was no test of the validity of the answers with relevant follow-up questions. Consequently we do not know whether the single parents questioned had (as do many long-term unemployed people) unreasonable expectations about what wage they could command or what kind of job they could do. The researchers did not even ask an all-important question when assessing attachment to the labour market: "When did you last look for a job?"

According to the Labour Force Survey, the number of lone parents without a job who had looked for work at some time in the four weeks prior to interview and who were available to start a job in the two weeks following their interview was, in summer 1996, just 136,000. Since there are over 500,000 single parents on Income Support who are to be targeted it follows that fewer than three in 10 of them show any real evidence of wanting work enough to look for it.


Eastbourne, East Sussex